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"Don't eat and drive" could be coming

Studies indicate that 80 percent of all car accidents and near-crashes are attributable to distracted driving. Worries about the personal injury and wrongful death that can result from those accidents have driven lawmakers in states and communities across the country to enact bans on various distraction sources. There are behind-the-wheel restrictions on cellphone use, primping and preening and more.

Maryland has had laws on the books for more than a year against reading and sending text messages while driving. Recently, some updates to state law have taken effect. One change allows the government to file criminal charges in instances when bike riders or pedestrians are killed by negligent drivers.

Based on recent news reports, it's clear that there is more to come. In Chicago, a number of communities have broadened ordinances. One allows police to cite motorists for operating hand-held computers, reading, grooming or eating, if they are stopped for some other reason. The community of Oak Park is considering an all out "don't eat and drive" ban. It would be one of the first communities in the nation to have such an ordinance if it passes.

There are those who oppose such sweeping bans. They argue that there are all sorts of things that can distract drivers such as changing a CD, adjusting the radio volume, or reaching for a drink. They say banning a few, and not all, could be difficult.

Officials at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety indicate they think those concerns are valid. A spokesman for the group says it's been easy to establish a link between cellphone use and crashes. He says it's not as easy to determine how distracting other activities are by comparison.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Distracted driving eats at trustees in Oak Park," Jim Jaworski, Oct. 12, 2011

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